Frazer Lee is one of the rising stars of the UK horror film scene. He has won numerous awards for his short films. His first major full-length movie Panic Button, was released last year to a lot of critical praise. As well as being a filmmaker, Frazer’s debut novel The Lamplighters, was one of the launch titles of Samhain Publishing, the new horror imprint headed up by Don D’Auria.
FL: It’s been a blast – positive reviews have already surfaced. Samhain placed ads in Fangoria, HorrorHound and Rue Morgue, and have had a presence at some of the big conventions so that’s helped raise awareness about the horror line for sure. It was announced recently that Samhain is a big sponsor for this year’s Bram Stoker Awards event too, so hopefully even more readers will know about The Lamplighters and all the other titles.
Could you tell the readers what the book is about, and why they should read it?
FL: The Lamplighters is about Marla Neuborn, a disgraced London au pair who gets the dream job of working as a ‘Lamplighter’ or caretaker on Meditrine Island. It’s a beautiful place but pretty soon Marla discovers the billionaire lifestyle is not all it’s made out to be. People should read it because they will unravel the mystery of what’s going on at the island with Marla and hopefully get some goosebumps and gross-outs along the way.
We are here today to talk about your work in films – can you tell us about your first steps into filmmaking?
FL: I started as a runner on a straight-to-video Doctor Who spin-off and worked my way up from there through various roles including production assistant and lighting guy, anything that would keep me on film sets for 12-16 hour shifts. I learned a lot from all those gigs, most of which were either unpaid or expenses only. I also did some film and TV extra work and a little acting. By the time I was studying screenwriting I felt ready to tackle my first short film as writer/director and when the opportunity to secure funding arose, I went for it.
Who and what would you say has been the biggest influence on your film career?
FL: All the stuff I watched and obsessed over as a kid definitely influenced me. All those Hammer Horrors and Universal Monster movies, and later the video nasties I rented on VHS from the local petrol garage! I also made stories up and wrote them down from an early age, so without knowing it I was practising for later life. In my teens I often read movie novelisations before the film came out and was really fascinated by the differences between the book and film. All those fascinations never left me and still drive me today.
What are the three most important lessons you have learned since starting out in the world of filmmaking?
FL: One is definitely not to talk too much about projects before they’re happening. Another is perhaps being self-reliant – you and you only will decide if a film project happens or not, the more you rely on other people to do the dirty work for you the longer you are going to be waiting around. That said, the third is certainly to surround yourself with the best possible people you can find to work with you and once you’ve been lucky enough to have worked with them, keep them with you – you’ll need them. A good crew and cast is like gold dust.
You have worked both as a director and screenwriter, which gives you the biggest sense of achievement?
FL: Ah, I don’t really think of those roles in terms of achievement, but rather how much pleasure and pain they have given me. And I have to say I have an undying masochist love for both directing and screenwriting!
Screenwriters seem to be the forgotten heroes of the film industry, why do you think this is? Have you ever felt jealous of the limelight that, directors, actors, and at times even SFX artists get?
FL: No, I’m a fan too and I think if you’re the jealous type then go be a director, actor or SFX artist yourself. If someone does something well then they deserve all the props they can get. Most people will say, when hearing about a new film, “Who’s in it? Who’s the director?” Only other screenwriters ask, “Who wrote it?” Ha ha!
FL: I adapted the story into a screenplay and asked permission from Chris to go film it. I set up an indie production company with my good friend Joseph Alberti and got the development process rolling. Chris invited us in for a meeting, showed us a short film, based on one of his other stories, and gave us a free option to go make our film, with the proviso that if we didn’t make it happen within (I think) 9 months, then the rights would revert to him. We did it in 7 months, the film premiered at Rotterdam International Film Festival 1999 and has played film festivals every year since. So I have a lot to thank Chris for because he took a chance on a first-timer like me adapting his work.
What is the film about?
FL: It’s one of those “what if?” stories that work so well for the short form. Guy goes to dentist, jumps the queue…and what if the dentist isn’t quite what he seems? Horror ensues!
You worked with Doug Bradley on this movie – what is this icon of horror like?
FL: Doug is a very professional actor and top gent. He was pitch perfect every take, knew his positions, knew his lines – of course – and had a tonne of them. Much of the film is his character speaking in monologues while his patient is out-cold in the dentist’s chair. I was a wreck towards the end of the shoot when I thought we were going to run out of time. As you’ll no doubt know, a film is often shot completely out of sequence, so the last thing we had to shoot in the dental location was the opening when Thurlow complains at reception then meets Dr Matthews. I thought we weren’t going to get it as external forces meant we had to finish a little early. Anyway, I hear this Cenobite voice from over my shoulder and it’s Doug, saying, “Tick……tock…….tick…….tock” over and over, the bastard! He kept shadowing me and doing it over and over. It was really…relaxing!
Charley Boorman also starred in the film, did he ride his motorbike to work every day?
FL: Hell yeah! It was a beast of bike too, sometimes I would call him and he’d be speaking via his hands-free headset while thundering down the motorway at insane mph. Impossible to have a chat, so I’d have to call him back later when he was on solid ground.
The film was has won many awards. What’s more important to you, critical or financial success?
FL: It was never about finance with On Edge, because shorts very rarely make money, their main purpose is to be used as calling cards to show what you can do. On Edge did sell though, to TV networks in Europe and the States so it happily made money back. The critical success is much more important with a short because if you can say your film has won this award and that award and put a nice quote from a high profile source on your poster or DVD cover then you’re rocking it like the big boys!
Red Lines saw you once again working with Doug Bradley, so he must have enjoyed working with you. Again the film a critical success, yet these are the only two films you have directed. Is there a reason for this?
FL: Red Lines went down really well with audiences and I’m pleased about that because it was a digital quickie compared to On Edge, which was shot 35mm Panavision, the whole deal. Initially the film was intended for a specific web channel, but when they went bust I took the film to festivals to see if it had a life there. It did and it has played dozens of festivals too over the years and bagged a few awards. I hope Doug enjoyed working on the films, the two shoots were pretty hectic and he had a tonne of stuff to do. It’s testament to him as an actor and as a mensch that he would put up with all that in the first place. I still see Doug quite often and we’ve had a number of feature projects come and go over the years. What I’ve learned is that it’s very common for the vast majority of film projects, even very good ones, not to get funded at all. Financing movies is a very tough nut to crack, but I haven’t failed thus far for lack of trying, believe me. Of course, you can go the micro-budget route and just get the damn thing made, I know that. And if I was a younger man again maybe I’d take the plunge and get myself a loan, max out a few credit cards and make a low budget feature. But I cannot and will not put my family through that level of risk and uncertainty, I have a responsibility to them and it would be totally unfair to drag them down with me if the thing tanked and the debt collectors came a-knocking. I did direct some TV after the shorts, I shot the promo campaign for True Horror With Anthony Head for Discovery Channel, which wad a fun shoot in a London crypt and I enjoyed working with Anthony immensely.
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